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Palestinian village of Susya tests citizen power
Palestinian village Susya tests citizen power
By Rabbi Arik Ascherman
PUBLISHED: December 4, 2016 at 6:11 pm in the San Jose Mercury News
Nobody knows what will be the policy of the next administration regarding
human rights in the Occupied Territories. As a rabbi and co-founder of the
Israeli interfaith NGO Haqel (The Field): Arabs and Jews in Defense of Human
Rights, I believe in God’s power to work miracles in the human heart. I also
know that we need to be prepared for the worst.
While I can provide a long list of instances where the U.S. should have
parlayed its friendship with Israel into more vigorous advocacy for human
rights, there are instances where administrations from both parties have
defended God’s Image in every human being.
One example is Susya, an “unrecognized” Palestinian village in the South
Hebron Hills in the Occupied West Bank. An Israeli settlement, also called
Susya, was created nearby in 1983; Palestinians were expelled from their
village in 1986. While the government and extremist groups argue there never
was a village, photos, British documents and the 1982 report of the pro
settlement government lawyer, Plia Albeck, prove they own village and
I am proud of the legal work that Haqel is doing to preserve Susya, but
Susya probably would not be standing today were it not for international
concern led by the U.S., especially Sen. Dianne Feinstein. In August of 2015
Israel agreed to sit down with the residents of Susya, and significant
progress was made. Today those discussions are frozen.The Israeli High Court
reversed the expulsions, but didn’t address where the villagers would live.
The Israeli army controls the planning process in the Occupied Territories,
meaning that Palestinians had no chance of getting a master plan approved to
legally build their homes. In 2011, settlers petitioned the High Court to
order the army to demolish all the “illegal” structures. Later this month,
the Israeli government is scheduled to respond to Palestinian Susya’s
May the incoming administration redouble U.S. commitment to keeping
Palestinian Susya residents in their homes on the land they own.
This is where average citizens come in. The great interest shown by the U.S.
and other governments is a direct result of constituents pressing their
representatives to express concern on their behalf. This is our best hope to
maintain U.S. engagement in keeping Palestinian villages standing. Citizens
are also working to make these villages visible and give them back their
A local Bay Area organization, Rebuilding Alliance, noticed that Google Maps
and Apple Maps show all the settlements in the West Bank absent hundreds of
Palestinian villages. Rep. Anna Eshoo conveyed the missing GPS data files to
Google, and Rep. Michael Honda encouraged Apple to fairly show what is
Just a few kilometers away, inside Israel proper, there are 35
“unrecognized” villages belonging to Bedouin citizens of Israel. Al Araqib
has land purchase documents from 1906, but Israel demolished the village 105
times since 2010, intending to put a forest where beleaguered dwellings now
stand. Citizen action can stop this.
Demolition plans do not reflect the views of average Israeli citizens.
Opinion polls show a clear majority of Israeli Jews believe that we must be
fair to the Bedouin, recognize their villages, and not move them against
their will because preserving the fabric of Israeli society is more
important than fighting over every dunam of land. So I continue believing in
the deep down goodness of my fellow Israelis. I hope they will act on their
In the Bible, God repeatedly promises Abraham that God will make his
descendants into a great nation. However, in the same sentence, God explains
that will happen when all humanity shares the blessing.
Susya spokesperson Nasser Nawajeh once told me that when they were expelled
in 1986 they were powerless because they were alone. He said, “We are again
in great danger, but with one big difference. We are no longer alone.” It is
in the power of Israeli, American, and world citizens to make sure that the
Palestinian residents of endangered villages will never be alone.
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is former executive director of Rabbis for Human
Rights. He will speak at 7 p.m. Monday at the Fellowship Hall of First
Christian Church, 80 S. 5th St., San Jose. He wrote this for The Mercury
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